'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' review: Even worse than 'A Thousand Words'

MoviesEntertainmentSeptember 11, 2001 AttacksJoel EdgertonDianne WiestJennifer GarnerShohreh Aghdashloo

0.5 stars (out of four)

Take the remarkably disingenuous “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” then replace the exploitation of 9/11 with an insulting adoption fairy tale—and you’ve got “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” a family film so simultaneously phony and saccharine that five out of five dentists guarantee it will rot both your teeth and brain. (Results not scientific.)

Ten-year-old Timothy Green (CJ Adams) literally emerges from the ground when Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) bury a box with descriptions of their hypothetical, ideal child after learning they will never be able to conceive one of their own. Don’t worry, though. Timothy’s personality has been expertly designed (by “Dan in Real Life” writer-director Peter Hedges, working from a story by Ahmet Zappa) to maximize wit and cuteness while avoiding any possible complications or emotional challenges presented by a kid trying to acclimate to a new family.

Timothy calls Cindy and Jim “Mom” and “Dad” right away, without batting an eye when Cindy initially asks about his parents. He doesn’t mind when his new mom tries to cut off the leaves growing from his ankles, smiling like a perfect little pixie who has no self-esteem issues but embraces his parents’ plan to hide his unusual foliage. And despite Timothy supposedly being “honest to a fault,” he withholds crucial information about what happens when his leaves fall off (cough, “A Thousand Words”) so “The Odd Life” can achieve peak levels of empty manipulation. The only impact is that at one point you wonder if maybe Timothy’s about to reveal that he’s the antichrist or something.

As if this weren’t enough, the film takes place in the small town of Stanleyville, the “pencil factory of the world,” which means Jim’s a pencil inspector, Cindy gives tours of the factory and a major plot point involves the development of a new kind of pencil. (Common plays the coach of Timothy’s soccer team called, yes, the Erasers.)

Cindy can’t stand her uptight boss Ms. Crudstaff (Dianne Wiest), who figures most prominently in a scene in which Timothy volunteers to take another stab at drawing her portrait. As he lets her hair down and sketches her, one person in the screening shouted “Titanic,” underlining a scene that already dripped with creepiness and unsettling intimacy between an elderly woman and a young boy. Though that’s not much more ridiculous than a scene in which Jim, Cindy and Timothy perform an a cappella version of War’s “Low Rider,” with Timothy on cowbell.

Focusing on people who can’t conceive and a character who springs from the page, “Odd Life” follows “The Babymakers” and “Ruby Sparks,” respectively, without honestly confronting either situation. Instead, this offensive garbage, aside from the fair point about parents who filter their own failures through their children, hops from cloying moment to the next, whether it’s Timothy attempting to steal an underwater kiss from a young girl trying to save his life or the film coldly moving on after the death of a family member. The story of “Odd Life” unfolds as Cindy and Jim recount their experiences with Timothy, telling an adoption counselor (Shohreh Aghdashloo), “You’re going to find it hard to believe.” Understatement of the year.

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mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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